The repercussions for victims of accidents involving large commercial trucks will often include severe, life-changing injuries and an enormous financial burden.
Navigating the legal aftermath of a serious truck-related accident involves establishing the trucking company's liability and holding it accountable for the resulting damages.
However, the situation becomes complicated if the victim shares part of the blame, a scenario with significant legal implications. As a victim involved in a truck-related accident, you can still seek compensation, even if you were partially at fault, especially with the support of a Philadelphia truck accident attorney.
Determining Fault and Liability After a Trucking Accident
The cornerstone of any personal injury claim lies in determining who was responsible for creating the harmful situation, and the at-fault party is typically held liable. In the case of trucking accidents, this might include the driver, their employer, or other entities, such as the company that loaded the cargo.
The passenger car driver's actions can contribute to the accident, making it a case of shared liability.
Establishing Fault After a Truck Accident
Several factors come into play when determining the root causes of a trucking accident and who is legally responsible, including:
- Compliance with traffic laws: There is an expectation that both truck drivers and other motorists operate their vehicles responsibly to maintain road safety. Any driver found violating traffic laws, such as speeding or failing to yield, could be at least partly responsible for the accident.
- Road and weather conditions: Accidents may happen due to external factors such as extreme weather or poor road infrastructure. Responsible driving, however, includes adjusting to the current conditions, such as slowing down during poor weather. Failure to do so can potentially be an example of negligence.
- Vehicle maintenance: The vehicle condition can also be crucial for determining fault. Did the accident happen due to a brake failure or blown-out tires, for example? These issues could both indicate a poorly maintained vehicle. Any warning signs of the problem could affect the driver's percentage of fault.
Methods and Evidence for Investigating Truck Accidents
The process of attributing fault in a trucking accident often requires a detailed investigation of many types of evidence, such as:
- Police reports: These detailed reports provide an official account of the incident, including diagrams of the scene and a preliminary determination of fault based on the responding officer's initial observations.
- Vehicle damage: Analyzing the extent and location of damage to the vehicles can provide insight into the accident's dynamics, such as the speed at the moment of impact, the direction from which it occurred, and other essential details that can indicate fault.
- Video footage: If available, footage from traffic cameras, dash cams, or nearby surveillance cameras can be critical in establishing the sequence of events.
- Trucking company records: Analyzing vehicle inspection reports, driver records, and other necessary evidence of the trucking company's operations can reveal if the company's failure to meet Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations played a part in the accident.
- Witness testimony: Statements from other drivers, passengers, or bystanders who witnessed the accident can be crucial in piecing together the events leading up to the collision.
- The truck's black box data: Modern commercial trucks have electronic logging devices or black boxes that record data such as speed and braking. In some cases, data from the truck's black box can provide indisputable evidence of the truck driver's negligence, such as exceeding the speed limit.
- Accident reconstruction specialists: These professionals use scientific methods to recreate the events before, during, and after the accident, providing critical insight into how the crash happened and who deserves more liability.
Rear-end collisions involving large trucks can happen for various reasons, such as when a truck suddenly stops or slows down due to a mechanical failure and the following passenger vehicle doesn't adjust its speed in time.
Here, both parties could share the blame: the trucking company may be liable for poor vehicle maintenance, and the car driver might hold responsibility for not maintaining a safe following distance as required by law.
Merging or Lane-Change Accidents
Merging or changing lanes involves a certain level of risk, particularly around large commercial trucks and their significant blind spots. If a truck driver fails to see a smaller vehicle when merging, the truck driver is generally at fault. However, if the other driver broke the speed limit, making it difficult for the truck driver to judge the distance, the other driver may bear partial responsibility.
Intersections are often hot spots for truck-related accidents due to the commercial vehicle's size, weight, and need for more time and space to maneuver. If a vehicle attempts a left turn across traffic and a truck hits them, the two parties might share fault based on their actions.
The truck driver could be at fault for speeding or not paying attention, while the driver making the turn could also bear some responsibility for miscalculating the truck's speed or distance.
A jackknife accident occurs when a truck's trailer swings out and forms an acute angle with the truck's cab, often due to abrupt braking, equipment failure, or poor weather conditions. Jackknife truck accidents often involve multiple lanes and vehicles. The fault determination in a jackknife accident typically requires an in-depth analysis of the sequence of events leading up to the incident, including the actions of all the drivers.
While understanding these common scenarios can be helpful, every accident is unique, and multiple factors will determine liability. A knowledgeable truck accident lawyer can evaluate your individual situation and guide you through the legal process.
The Legal Implications of Being Partly at Fault
The legal system recognizes that accidents aren't always entirely one person's fault. Being partially at fault in a trucking accident can affect your claim for damages compensation.
The degree of your responsibility and the specific laws that apply in your state, which can vary significantly, are factors in determining how much compensation you can receive. The rules regarding fault and compensation typically fall under two legal doctrines: comparative negligence and contributory negligence.
Understanding Comparative Negligence
Comparative negligence is a legal concept that allows you to recover damages even if you have some responsibility for the accident. Your compensation will decrease in proportion to your assigned percentage of fault. For example, if your level of fault was 30 percent and your compensatory damages were $100,000, you would only receive $70,000 to reflect this.
There are two main types of comparative negligence:
- Pure comparative negligence: Under this rule, even if you're 99 percent at fault, you can still recover 1 percent of your damages.
- Modified comparative negligence: Under this rule, you can only recover if you're less than 50 percent (or 51 percent in some states) at fault.
Understanding Contributory Negligence
Contributory negligence is a much harsher doctrine a few states follow. This rule can bar you from recovering any compensation if your fault level for the accident is even 1 percent. This all-or-nothing approach underscores the need for strong legal representation to identify and mitigate factors that might contribute to the victim's perceived fault.
While being partly at fault for a trucking accident will complicate your personal injury claim, it doesn't necessarily mean you can't recover compensation. Hiring an experienced attorney who can advise you on the best way to recover fair compensation in your specific situation is critical.
Common Misconceptions About Being Partly at Fault
After experiencing a trucking accident where you might share some of the blame, it's easy to fall prey to common misconceptions about fault and liability, leading to unnecessary stress and lost opportunities for securing compensation. Some of these common myths include:
"I'm Partly at Fault, so I Can't Sue"
Many people mistakenly believe that being partly at fault for an accident automatically disqualifies them from bringing a lawsuit or recovering damages. Being partly at fault can limit the amount of damages you can recover, but victims in this situation still have various legal options available.
Even in jurisdictions that follow the stricter contributory negligence laws, a lawyer could dispute your degree of fault in court for you, potentially allowing you to recover damages.
"Insurers Determined I Was at Fault, so It Must Be True"
An insurance company determining you were at fault doesn't necessarily mean it has sufficient evidence or that a court of law would agree. Insurance companies have their own methods for assigning blame, which can have flaws or biases due to their clear financial incentives.
If you disagree with an insurance company's assessment, don't lose hope. A truck accident lawyer can challenge the insurer's findings and advocate for your interests.
"The Police Report Determines Fault"
A police report is a critical piece of evidence in an accident, but it's not definitive evidence of fault. While the report provides an initial impression of what happened, a thorough investigation may reveal additional facts. Courts and insurance companies use police reports as one piece of the puzzle but also consider other types of evidence.
What Your Personal Injury Lawyer Can Do If You Were Partly at Fault
In the aftermath of a trucking accident, being partly at fault can place you and your legal rights in a vulnerable position, especially if you're not well-versed in navigating the system. A truck accident lawyer can ensure you're in the strongest possible position to recover fair compensation. Some of the ways a lawyer can represent you after a trucking accident include:
Assessing the Case and Developing a Strong Legal Strategy
A lawyer can develop a robust legal strategy specific to your situation, which may involve challenging your assigned degree of fault, highlighting the other party's negligence, or revealing flaws in the insurer's accident investigation.
Communicating and Negotiating With Insurance Companies
An attorney can handle all communications and negotiations with the involved insurance companies, ensuring they do not take advantage or coerce you into accepting an unfair settlement. Your attorney works to accurately represent your side of the story and negotiate assertively to help you maximize compensation.
Protecting Your Rights Throughout the Legal Process
The legal process can be long and complicated in any personal injury case, especially one with all the unique factors of a shared liability truck accident case. A personal injury lawyer in Philadelphia can help you understand your options, guide you through all legal proceedings, protect your rights every step of the way, and represent you in court if necessary.
Being partly at fault in a truck accident is incredibly challenging but doesn't necessarily prevent you from recovering any compensation. The specific laws in your state, the details of the accident, and the strength of your legal representation can all significantly influence the outcome of your case.